Christians oppose payday loans as 'sinful'

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(RNS) To a majority of Christians, those who provide payday loans, with their three-digit interest rates, are sinners.

That's among the findings of a new poll conducted by LifeWay Research, a Nashville-based Christian group, that surveyed 1,000 self-identifying Christians in 30 states with no regulations on payday lending.

“Payday loans with their exorbitant interest rates operate far outside of what is ethical or biblical,” Barrett Duke, vice president for policy of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said of the findings.

Among the findings of the online poll, conducted in February:

  • More than three-fourths of Christians (77 percent) say it is "sinful" to loan money in a way that financially harms the borrower.
  • More than 80 percent of Christians believe their states should have laws that regulate payday loans.
  • Fewer than 10 percent of Christians say the Bible influences their opinions on lending money.
  • Seventeen percent of Christians say they have taken payday loans, including 20 percent of Protestants and 12 percent of Catholics. Just under half of African-American Christians (49 percent) and a quarter of Hispanic Christians (24 percent) say they have taken payday loans.

Payday loans, which have interest rates sometimes as high as 400 percent, have been in the crosshairs of Christian groups before. In January, groups of Catholics and evangelicals in Iowa worked to place a ban on payday loans before that state's House of Representatives. The measure reverted to committee.

And in 2014, a coalition of consumer advocates and faith leaders lobbied Congress to cap the amount of interest that can be charged for such loans at 36 percent.

Islam prohibits the charging of interest on loans.

(Kimberly Winston is a national reporter for RNS)